Q: We use an Amazon Echo Dot device to play streaming music throughout the day, and often have a second unit streaming music on a different floor. Are these devices slowing down my internet service from Comcast?
Bob Oldowski, Bloomington
A: Whether Amazon's streaming music service affects your internet usage depends on what internet speed you buy from Comcast and how fast your Wi-Fi network is.
An Amazon music stream requires 256,000 bits per second of internet capacity, or about a quarter of a megabit. If you run two streams constantly, that's half a megabit. If you have a 10-megabit download speed (the slowest Comcast offers), you would expect that two simultaneous music streams would use up only about one-20th of your internet capacity.
But in many homes, the walls and floors are thick enough to partly block Wi-Fi radio signals, which effectively reduces your internet speed for devices that are a distance from your wireless router. For example, walls made of brick, marble or solid wood can reduce Wi-Fi internet speed by as much as 50 percent. That could reduce your 10-megabit internet speed to 5 megabits, and the two Amazon music streams would be using 10 percent of it.
While using 10 percent of your internet capacity might not seem like a big deal, it could be if you also view streaming video on your TV. Good quality high-definition TV video requires about 5 megabits of internet capacity -- more than you may have available if two music streams are running and your Wi-Fi network is also handling downloads for a computer or smartphone.
To find out how much internet capacity you have available, take a laptop computer to each room of your house and run the internet speed test at tinyurl.com/p7zgr.
Do this while running the two Amazon music streams, then with those streams turned off.
Q: I have a 1980s Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) game console that uses a light-sensing "Zapper" gun for shooting games. The game unit still works, but the Zapper doesn't seem to work with a modern LCD TV. Does the Zapper require an old "tube" TV to function?
Jim Kirchner, New Hope
A: Yes, you need a CRT (cathode ray tube) TV rather today's LCD (liquid crystal display) models.
The Zapper was a key element in the Nintendo "Duck Hunt" game that was included with the NES console when it was introduced in 1985. When the Zapper was fired at a CRT, the screen reacted faster than the eye could see.
First it turned completely black, then the parts of the screen displaying ducks flashed white. If the light sensor in the Zapper saw white, you were given credit for a hit. If it saw black, you weren't.
But this technology depended on exact timing. The Zapper's light sensor allowed for the "lag time" -- the time between when the trigger was pulled and the CRT screen reacted. When LCD TVs were introduced, they had different lag times than CRT TVs. As a result, the original Zapper pistol no longer worked. ("Duck Hunt" was modified for the Nintendo Wii video game console in 2014, but the new version didn't use the original Zapper pistol.)
About The Writer
Steve Alexander covers technology for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Readers may write to him at Tech Q&A, 425 Portland Ave. S., Minneapolis, Minn. 55488-0002; email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a full name, city and phone number.
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